How many senses does a shark have? Hint: More than we do.
A common misconception is that sharks have poor eyesight; in reality, their eyes are incredibly similar to ours. Though sight isn’t their primary sense, their eyesight is much more adequate than it’s given credit for. With eyes on either side of their head, sharks can see in just about every direction. Great hammerheads, with their wide-set eyes, have a nearly 360-degree view of their world. There are even certain deep-sea sharks who can see well in low light, allowing for nocturnal hunting.
Did you know that sound travels faster in water than it does on land? Sharks’ impressive sense of hearing allows them to detect low-frequency sounds, particularly from injured prey. Though it’s difficult to spot their ears, sharks have two small ear holes behind each of their eyes. When they detect sound waves, the tiny hairs inside of their ears vibrate and send signals to the brain.
If there is one sense that sharks can rely on, it’s their sense of smell. About two-thirds of the shark’s brain is in charge of detecting smell. Their “nares”, or nostrils, pick up smells when water flows into one and out through the other. Whether searching for prey, predators, or mates, their sense of smell is essential for their survival.
For sharks, the actual taste of food isn’t quite as important as finding it is. They simply use their taste buds to decide whether or not something qualifies as “food.”
A common interaction between sharks and humans is a shark bite, with humans surviving the encounter. Although it can be frightening for anyone involved, these are not necessarily malicious actions on the part of the shark. They are simply “testing” whether an unfamiliar creature is food. Luckily for us, sharks don’t like the taste of human flesh.
Like us, sharks have nerve endings across their bodies. Lacking hands or feet, they use the nerves in their teeth to explore their surroundings. Many shark species even have “barbels” near their mouths, which are similar to a cat’s whiskers. These barbels help sharks sense their surroundings through touch alone, often used for locating hidden prey.
The lateral line consists of pores that begin at the shark’s snout and continue down to the tail. These pores can detect changes in water pressure as the shark swims, helping them to avoid obstacles and understand their surroundings. This pressure also alerts them to the presence of predators, prey, or a mate—in other words, it is one of the shark’s most important senses.
Ampullae of Lorenzini
The ampullae, or the ampullae of Lorenzini, are the shark’s electroreceptors. Located on the head and snout, these receptors allow sharks to identify electric fields, often leading them right to active prey. The ampullae is also sensitive to Earth’s electromagnetic field, making sharks expert at migrating across the ocean.
“The 7 Senses of the Sharks.” The Seven Senses of Sharks, shark.swiss/sharks/biology/7-senses.
“Ampulla of Lorenzini.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., www.britannica.com/science/ampulla-of-Lorenzini.
“Ampullae of Lorenzini.” Ampullae of Lorenzini - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/ampullae-of-lorenzini.
“Senses.” Hawaiʻi Sharks, 1 July 2014, dlnr.hawaii.gov/sharks/about-sharks/senses/#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20those%20we,probably%20its%20sense%20of%20hearing.
“Shark Senses.” The Shark Trust, www.sharktrust.org/shark-senses.